Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Inspired by Great Books

Summer time offers lots of time for reading. Most of what I've been reading is in preparation for class, which starts in three short weeks! I've also enjoyed reading "for fun" (Mary Stewarts' Merlin Trilogy deserves six out of five stars!). I have to admit - I am in awe of people who actually write and publish a book. How do novelists come up with such wonderfully rich characters who live in such diverse places? How to non-fiction writers identify important stories to share that engage their readers in important thoughts? Eleanor Roosevelt's statement inspires me daily: she said

Great minds discuss ideas.

Average minds discuss events.

Small minds discuss people.

I want to move from small-mindedness to great-mindedness. Really good books help me along that path.

So, what good books have you read lately that inspire you? Here's a book that has inspired me professionally: Controversial Issues in Social Policy (2007, 3rd edition) by Karger, Midgley, Kindle, and Brown published by Allyn & Bacon. I think all social workers should read this short book because it is packed with all of the most important debates going on in our profession today. Here are a few of the sixteen debates. "Should we open the southern U.S. border to immigration?" Should same-sex marriage be legalized?" Does social work discriminate against evangelical Christians?" "Has welfare reform worked?" Wow! Any one of those debates, in a safe and collegial environment, would be amazing to participate in!

The authors give us a chance to enter into critical debates about social policies that have tremendous influence in our social work practice. If we ignore these debates, we do so at our own peril. I have seen and experienced the results of such uninformed practice and believe it is one of the key reasons why social workers experience burnout. This book gives me a sense of "Ah HA!" and a small bit of courage to actually step into a conversation around these previously "off the table" topics. Some where in my professional development, I got the message loud and clear that "good social workers" just don't talk about these things in fear of offending someone or some how undermining my professional values. I had an unformed, uniformed, and unspoken thought that if I dared to enter such a debate, I would some how be violating the NASW Code of Ethics or not living up to the social work values of social justice, service, competence, integrity, dignity and worth of the person and the importance of human relationships. Isn't that weird??? I now believe that the ability to enter into critical debates helps us to live up to our profession's values and asks us to honestly and authentically evaluate our personal values at the same time.

In the preface, the editors introduce us to the importance of the marketplace of ideas. They state,
"The marketplace of ideas concept holds that best policy arises from the competition of divergent ideas in a free and transparent public discourse, an important element of liberal democracy.... Critical debate facilitates the twin tasks of validation and refutation. It also heightens an understanding of the issue, permits contradicitons to be resolved, and ultimately promotes correct rather than false knowledge." (p. vii)
In reading about both sides of these debates, my appreciation and respect for the complexity of social work practice grows exponentially. These debates make me think of great social workers, in the field and in the academy, who inspired me and who's practice was guided by the philosophy of the marketplace of ideas in social work. I realized one reason why they inspired me is that they were not afraid to enter into these debates. They were well informed in the nuances of the issues and were willing to listen to others in the debating process. They didn't shut down the conversation when the other side did not immediately agree with their position in the debate. They did not close their mind to a different position and they did not judge the person because he or she did not agree with their side of the debate. I think competent social workers are constantly participating in the marketplace of ideas regarding the social work profession. This is not easy - this requires moral courage, humility, and respect. This book inspires me (and I hope you too!) to learn more about the controversies of our profession and to be willing to find others who also want to grow and contribute to the marketplace of social work ideas. If we are to be healthy, influential, and competent professionals, we need to shed the notion of not offending other and add our voice to the conversations.

I'd love to hear from you if you've read the book and have questions, comments, or ideas! What helps you to enter into critical debate that adds value to the profession of social work?

1 comment:

Cara said...

I've been reading some self-help books lately. I'm currently reading Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero; it discusses the idea that emotions such as anger, fear, and sadness should not be avoided and can even deepen a person's spirituality. For fun I'm reading Lonesome Dove. Any book by Barbara Kingsolver is inspiring - both a beautiful piece of literature and a social commentary.

Controversial Issues in Social Policy sounds really interesting. Those are the things I want to be able to discuss, but I don't feel qualified to, so reading about the issues will definitely help. I think it'd be really interesting to have your students take some of the issues and debate them. That might be good for an ethics class or even field seminar.